Contrasting Developmental Trajectories in the Earliest Known Tetrapod Forelimbs

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Science  17 Apr 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5925, pp. 364-367
DOI: 10.1126/science.1167542

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Ichthyostega and Acanthostega are the earliest tetrapods known from multiple near-complete skeletons, with Acanthostega generally considered the more primitive. New material indicates differing ontogenetic trajectories for their forelimbs: In Ichthyostega, the pattern of muscle attachment processes on small humeri (upper arm bones) resembles that in “fish” members of the tetrapod stem group such as Tiktaalik, whereas large humeri approach (but fail to attain) the tetrapod crown-group condition; in Acanthostega, both small and large humeri exhibit the crown-group pattern. We infer that Ichthyostega underwent greater locomotory terrestrialization during ontogeny. The newly recognized primitive characteristics also suggest that Ichthyostega could be phylogenetically more basal than Acanthostega.

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